Tuesday, December 29, 2009

By Grace, I Am What I Am


[This entry follows a sermon preached by Steve Smith at Gray Road Baptist Church.]

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God was with me. – 1 Corinthians 15:9-10

In Zechariah 3 we saw the picture of a defiled spiritual leader of the nation Israel. Joshua was the High Priest of God’s chosen nation, yet he was covered in filth and sin. The people of Israel were certainly concerned about the physical obstacles that confronted them as they were rebuilding the temple, but what about the spiritual obstacles that would still remain? God gave Zechariah this vision in chapter 3 to address this very concern. How could Joshua be covered in sin, defiled, with no sacrifice for sin, and still minister as the High Priest of this nation? GRACE. Access to the mercy seat was granted to Joshua by God’s amazing grace.

Paul clearly understands this as he reflects on his ministry as an apostle. He knows that he was a persecutor of the church of God. In 1 Timothy 1:15-16, Paul confesses that he was the “worst of sinners…yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” His ministry and his calling were clearly undeserved, yet God gave grace. His role in the kingdom of God was a gift of grace.

Christian, I hope that you understand well the role that grace has played in your life. We should all remain aware of our unworthiness before God. God has called us to salvation by His grace, he has given us our ministry by His grace and we will continue in our ministry by His grace. If we believe that we deserve our salvation or our ministry, I can assure you that we are wrong. If we believe that we are undeserving of our salvation and our ministry, I can assure you that we are right. Nevertheless, take heart, because it by grace that we are what we are. As we continue to serve the LORD in our personal unworthiness, take comfort in the fact that our worthiness is found in Christ.

Finally, let us be reminded that the grace of God is not without effect. In Zechariah, as God graciously imputes his righteousness to Joshua, God says to Joshua, “if you will walk in my ways, and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you access among these who are standing here.”(Zech 3:7) Paul says, “... his grace to me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them.” (1 Cor. 15:10). God’s grace empowers his people to faithful service. As a result of grace, we are driven to faithfulness. Paul says again, “the grace of God has appeared…instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age…” (Titus 2:11-12) Our salvation, our ministry, our service, our works, our righteousness is a gift of grace from our God. Praise God for His unfathomable grace!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why Does It Matter If God Keeps His Promises?

[These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church. If you would like to listen to that message, just click here and listen to "Christmas According to Micah."]

"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old." - Micah 7:18-20 (ESV)

The forgiveness of God is a wonderful thing. In this text alone, we read of God 'pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression.' We see that He does not stay angry forever, but He is steadfast in love. He treads iniquity under foot and casts our sin into the depths of the sea. These are wonderful words, and we must always remember that this forgiveness comes at a cost.

A cost is always paid by the one who forgives. If a bank chooses to forgive a debt, the debtor may be free but the bank has agreed to pay the price. If I offend you with my words and you forgive me, you are letting me off the hook...accepting the pain of my offense in exchange for a right relationship. God can be just in forgiving sin because He has paid the price for that forgiveness in the death of His son. At the cross, God laid our sin on Jesus (Is. 53:6; 2 Cor. 5:21), and He poured out His wrath on His own Son so that we might be justified(Rom. 3:23-26). The forgiveness of God is a wonderful thing, and it is a worthy theme on which to dwell.

But what about this idea in Micah 7:20 of God keeping His promises? Why is this important? Why does it matter that God will keep His promises? He did make promises, you know. He promised Abram that He would bless all the families of the earth through his seed (Gen. 12). He promised David that one of his descendants would sit on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7). He even promised the serpent in the garden that one would come to crush his head (Gen. 3). Why does it matter if God keeps these promises?

Let's begin by thinking of promises made in human relationships. What do we think of one who always keeps his promise? Do we hold that person in high regard? How is the trust in that relationship affected by the fact that he keeps his promise? Now, what do we think of those who do not keep their promises? How does a marital relationship change when the promises made on a wedding day go broken? I think you see what I'm driving at here.

Those who keep promises are exalted in our minds and hearts, while those who break promises are not...they are shut out of the 'inner circle' of our lives. Why? Because when a promise is laid down, a person's reputation lays with it. If the promise is kept, the reputation is strengthened. If the promise if broken, it is weakened.

With this being said, why do you think it's important that God keeps His promises...even when these promises have been made to "our fathers from the days of old" (Micah 7:20)? When God made promises to Abram, He was not just trying to encourage Abram...telling him to 'hang in there' while God led him to a new land. God laid His reputation down with that promise, and if God does not keep every one of them, then His reputation will diminish...He would be less honorable...His glory would not shine as bright.

So, first of all, it's important that God keeps His promise to Abram and David and the other patriarchs because His glory is on the line. He is the only God. In Isaiah 42:8, God says, "I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols." If He fails to keep His promise, then His glory fades, and He is no better than idols made by human hands...who fail those who trust them constantly. However, BE CLEAR ON THIS...God will always be faithful to keep His promise. His glory will never fade...it shines brighter with each passing day. As men and women turn from their sin and trust in Christ, who came from the seed of Abraham, the number of Abram's true, spiritual descendants grows and more families of the earth are blessed. A great nation...a kingdom of priests...is built one soul at a time. In the conversion of sinners, God is glorified as the only Savior of mankind, and God is glorified as the keeper of His promises.

Closely tied to the first reason is the second (in reality, any other reason would flow from this first one). If God does not keep His promise, then we would question whether we could trust God at all. If He would not keep His promise to Abram, then why would we believe that He would keep the promise that 'whosoever believes in him may have eternal life' (John 3:14)? Or that if we come to Him we will find rest for our souls (Mt. 11:28-30)? Not keeping His promise would diminish God's glory and would give us reason to doubt Him...to not trust Him. This would affect whether we pray to Him at all, and if we did, how we prayed. As it is, though, we have EVERY reason to trust Him because He keeps His promises.

Even during this Christmas week...we look into a manger in Bethlehem and see a baby, born of a virgin. We see a baby who was born to save his people from their sins. We see a baby who was born to die, so that we might live. At Christmas, we see Jesus, and we remember just how important it is that God keeps His promises, because Jesus is the Promised One.

Monday, December 14, 2009

If You Are Willing, You Can...

[These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church called"The Healing Hand of Jesus". If you would like to listen to that message, just click here.]

Almost two years ago, I got on a plane and traveled to Liberia, West Africa, in order to obtain a visa for my newly adopted daughter, Georgia, and bring her home. Before leaving for 3 1/2 weeks, I wrote a prayer/devotional guide for the congregation I was serving in Nashville, TN. That devotional guide found its basis in the book of Mark, and one text of Scripture that came to mind over and over as I wrote that guide and traveled to Liberia was found in Mark 1:40. They are the leper's words to Jesus, "If you will, you can make me clean."

These words are striking to me, and God reminded me of how to pray using the leper's words...He used these words to encourage me as I sought to bring Georgia home. While I was in Liberia, I kept a journal so that Susan would know more about the experience I had. We did not get to talk for long periods of time on the phone, so this journal would be her insight into my heart and my journey while in Africa. Now, I will share some of that with you. (Anything in italics is added to help give clarity.)

On Friday, February 1, 2008, I wrote the following:

"It's Friday, and it's about 2 PM. I just finished preparing to teach tonight, and it has encouraged me greatly. [I was asked by a local church to teach on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday during my last week in Liberia...which included preaching the gospel to Georgia's birth parents on Sunday morning!] It's on Mark 1:40-45, especially focusing on the leper's words, "If you will, you can..." I am praying this with great boldness and confidence as I wait to hear if Georgia's visa will be granted today.

We just heard that another child's visa is packaged and ready, and we are waiting to hear about mine. [This was the last day I could receive my visa and still leave on Sunday because the government would shut down for the weekend.] I felt compelled this morning to fast over lunch and to focus all my energy on calling on God to deliver this visa. Nobody believes I will get it. After listening to the encouragement from other parents who were with me, I had moved my flight up to Sunday from Wednesday. Now, they were apologizing for this counsel. Not even Maria, [the founder of the orphanage], believes I will get the visa. When I asked her what the chances are, she said, 'You're not getting it today.'

However, I believe that God can. If He is willing, He can. I will willingly submit to His will, but I refuse to believe it cannot be done today. My prayer is that it will come through as a demonstration of His power over governments...as a testimony of hope for the other families...and as an instrument of glory for God...that many might see the power of prayer and fasting and faith...that these are vehicles which God uses to bring amazing things to pass."

At this point, I need to clarify before I share more of my journal. Nobody knew I was fasting. We were all praying for the visas to be delivered, but nobody knew about the fasting. I only share it in this public way to testify to what the Lord did.

After writing this journal entry, I took Georgia to our bedroom and laid her down for a nap. As she napped, I prayed. Then, she woke up, and I had her playing on the bed while I continued to pray. I believe it was Charles Spurgeon who said that when we pray, we should go to God with arguments...that's what I did. This was my next entry:

"After praying for the last hour and a half for the Lord to send me home...to grant Georgia's visa...I finally got an answer. I asked that He would grant the visa for Georgia's sake because He is the One who "settle[s] the solitary in a home" (Ps. 68:6). For Caleb's sake...so he could stop wearing Daddy's hat and could have Daddy home. [Every day I was gone, Caleb wore one of my hats to be close to me.] For Austin's sake...that his excitement over my homecoming being on his birthday wouldn't be met with disappointment. For Emilie, so her heart wouldn't be broken anymore. [Though she talked about Daddy and where Daddy was, she would not talk to me on the phone or even look at my picture...she was mad because I was gone.] For Susan's sake, so she could be relieved of the pressure she feels.

For Alta Loma's sake [the church I was serving at the time]...so they might see the power of prayer and fasting and would become men and women of prayer, and so they would have their pastor home. For all who will hear this story...so they will know God answers prayer. For my sake...because I am His child, and He gives good gifts to His children. Mostly for His sake...because the government rests on His shoulders...because His power is greater than any other...because He is still the God of adoption...because He started this process...because His Son died to teach us of adoption, and His Son should be honored in it.

At 3:25, as I was praying these kinds of things over and over again, there was a knock at my door. I opened it, and there stood Maria. She said, 'Your visa is on its way to the compound.' I could do nothing but hug her and weep. I had fasted, I had prayed, and I had wept in prayer for this. God delivered my answer in His time. Thank you, God, for teaching me how to pray."

As I type these words, I am taken back to that time in my life, and I long to be more consistent in this kind of passionate prayer. It was impossible for that visa to get to that compound before the end of the day...it just wasn't going to happen. But God, in His goodness toward me and my family and especially toward Georgia, granted that visa. Traveling two or three days later probably would have been no big deal, but this pastor's heart and faith were encouraged that day...when God moved the government of Liberia so that He could answer my prayer.

What is it, in your life, that needs this kind of praying and fasting? Is there a loved one who does not believe? Are there situations at work or in relationships that seem impossible to resolve? We must completely submit to God's will, knowing that He will do what is right and good ("If you will"). We also must believe in the power of God to accomplish anything that He so desires ("you can"). So, let us follow the example of this leper and pray, believing, "If you will, you can..."

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Priority of Preaching

[These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church. If you would like to listen to that message, just click here.]

Today, as I reflect on Mark 1:29-39, I can't help but continue to dwell on the fact that Jesus' priority in His routine ministry was preaching. I must confess...I may be dwelling there because preaching is a big portion of what God has called me to do. While I recognize that bias, I am going to plunge forward with these thoughts. A man approached me after the service just yesterday who said that the teaching about the priority of preaching really resonated in his soul. A church he was attending in another time in his life focused their energies on other things, and he just knew it was wrong. (He's not a pastor, so I may not be alone in focusing here.)

So, let's think about the emphasis to be placed on preaching. Do you think preaching is important in the Bible? Have you ever been tempted to think that a pastor might emphasize preaching so he can be "in the spotlight" more often? Do you think preaching is just a 'necessary evil' within the context of corporate worship? Let's think about what the Bible says.

1. Preaching is important in the Old Testament. Think of Ezra's role in Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-8. He brings the Law of God to the people after the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, reads it, and then (with the help of others) explains what it means. This celebration of God's work through His people would be incomplete apart from proclaiming Him through preaching. Isaiah's call (6:8-10) is the call to preach, and then the rest of the book is primarily a record of his preaching ministry to God's people. God's call to the prophet Jonah was to go to Nineveh and preach. God's call to Amos was to go and preach to the northern kingdom of Israel. In fact, all the books that we call "major and minor prophets" are books containing the preaching ministries of various men set apart by God. Noah was even called a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5).

2. Preaching is important in Jesus' ministry. You can refer back to the message from yesterday, but in addition to that, think about Matthew's gospel. We see what is often called the "sermon on the mount" from chapters 5-7. Jesus preaches against the scribes and Pharisees in chapter 23, and then He preaches about the end times in chapters 24-25. In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out the twelve to minister. What kind of ministry are they to do? Verse 7 records Jesus' words: "And proclaim as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" Jesus sent them out to preach.

3. Preaching is important in the early church (Acts). It was a sermon that would clarify the meaning of the coming of the Holy Spirit (2:14-36). It was a sermon that pointed people away from focusing on miracles and to Jesus Christ (3:12-26). It was preaching that became the focus of the apostolic ministry (6:1-7). Even as the book of Acts closes, we find that it is preaching that marches on: "[Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (28:30-31).

4. Preaching is important in the rest of the New Testament. In Romans, Paul is eager to preach the gospel (1:15), and he says that the only way people will hear and believe the gospel is if it is preached (10:14-17). In 1 Corinthians 9:16, Paul proclaims woe on himself (and anyone else, by implication) is he does not preach the gospel. And what was it Paul wanted to pass on to young Timothy as he saw the sun setting on his own ministry? "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Paul wants Timothy to preach the gospel because a time will come when people won't put up with the gospel...won't put up with sound doctrine...they just want to hear what they want to hear but not what God wants them to hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

As if this isn't enough, it needs to be stated that the end of preaching is not simply a way to boost Bible knowledge. It is not primary so that we can have thick notebooks and strong minds but empty, anemic hearts. The end of preaching is the exaltation of God and the work He has done in Jesus Christ. It is the gospel we preach, or, as Paul has put it, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). This tempts us to think that preaching is only for those who do not believe, but this can't be true since Paul was always talking to the church in his writings. I was at a conference a few years ago, and a pastor was talking about the real temptation to not preach the gospel because "your people already know these things." His response was simple, "A healthy believer loves to hear the gospel proclaimed." The gospel not only evangelizes the lost...it also strengthens the believers.

Read these words from A.W. Tozer:

"Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the Living God (Side Note: 'Exposition' is an explanation or interpretation of the meaning/purpose of a text.) Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such a way as to leave the hearers devoid of any spiritual nourishment whatever...The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts."

Now, look at the words of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Dr. Lloyd-Jones was a physician, so he often uses those kinds of images in his preaching):

"So I would sum up by saying that it is preaching alone that can convey the Truth to people, and bring them to the realization of their need, and to the only satisfaction for their need. Ceremonies and ritual, singing and entertainment, and all your interest in political and social affairs, and all else cannot do this. I am not denying that they can produce effects, I have granted that they can, and that this is where the danger sometimes comes in. What men and women need is to be brought to a 'knowledge of the truth'; and if this is not done you are simply palliating symptoms, and patching up the problem for the time being."

We have seen that the Bible places a high priority on preaching, and we have read some thought-provoking words from two godly men in the recent past. The questions that remain are these: what will you do with what you have read? Does your attitude toward preaching need to change, and if so, how? How will you listen to the preaching of the gospel differently this week as a result of these reminders? Do you see real, spiritual benefits for your own soul in hearing the gospel proclaimed week by week...if not, why not? If so, what are those benefits?

These may be helpful questions to think about this week. Maybe you can think of more. Put them with the Bible and notebook or pen you carry to corporate worship. When you are tempted to devalue the preaching of the gospel, pull them out again and ask the Lord to help you see preaching as He does. Let's think on these things together.

That's all for now...I have studying to do so that I can preach the gospel this Sunday.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Onward Christian Soldiers

[These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church. If you would like to listen to that message, just click here.]

Before we begin, it would be helpful to read Ephesians 6:10-20. Click here to read it if you don't have a Bible handy. (By the way, I have been greatly blessed and helped by the British pastor Derek Prime in this text, and if you are familiar with him, don't be surprised it this rings with familiarity. The sermon I heard him preach on this text back in 2005 is one I will not soon forget.)

Matthew Henry: "Is not our life a warfare? It is so; for we struggle with the common calamities of human life. Is not our religion much more a warfare? It is so; for we struggle with the opposition of the powers of darkness, and with many enemies who would keep us from God and heaven. We have enemies to fight against, a captain to fight for, a banner to fight under, and certain rules of war by which we are to govern ourselves."

John MacArthur - "The Christian who continually seeks to grow in his knowledge of and obedience to the Word and to serve the Lord more faithfully will not find [life] becoming easier. As the Lord gives mastery over certain temptations and weaknesses, Satan will attack elsewhere. Faithful witnessing, preaching, teaching, visiting, and every other service for the Lord not only will bring victories but will also bring their own special difficulties and opposition. A Christian who no longer has to struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil is a Christian who has fallen into sin or complacency. A Christian who has no conflict is a Christian who has retreated from the front lines of service."

These are strong statements, aren't they? What do you think? Do you buy into the notion that our lives are lives of warfare? That faithfulness in serving the Lord will bring inevitable conflict? Sometimes, it's tempting to assume that spiritual warfare is something that only applies to missionaries seeking to confront the occult in a distant land. It's only for pastors and church leaders. It only applies to personal evangelism.

While this is the temptation, Paul takes us somewhere else to find the context of spiritual warfare. Looking in the direct context of Ephesians 6:10-20, we see Paul applying the gospel to various situations. In 5:22-33, he speaks of wives and husbands. In 6:1-4, it's children and parents. In 6:5-9, slaves and masters...or employers and employees. Isn't this where the war is often fought? In our homes? In our workplaces? Wouldn't the enemy love to destroy our families? Wouldn't he desire us to be ineffective and compromised in our workplace? How are we to deal with such things? What must we know if we are to gain ground in spiritual warfare?

1. We must know where our strength is. Look at verse 10. Our strength is in the Lord. It is not in our accomplishments as Christians, it is not in the length of time we have believed in Christ, it is not in our knowledge of God's Word...it is in the Lord. God gives spiritual strength for our daily battle against the devil, and we must know this and rely on it if we are to be successful in the fight. Derek Prime said, "Trying to fight a spiritual battle in our physical strength is like trying to fight a nuclear war with bows and arrows." How true...we must know where our strength is.

2. We must know who our enemy is. Verse 12 - "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." We may have conflict with our wives or husbands, but they are not the enemy. There may be tension with our boss or our employees, but they are not the enemy. Our children may seem rebellious at every turn, but they are not the enemy. Even within the church, it is tempting to think someone within the congregation is the enemy, but he/she is not. There may be opposition in any of these relationships, but the real enemy is not there.

We must know who the enemy is. He is the devil...Lucifer...Satan...the prince of the power of the air...the god of this world. His schemes and tricks are many...they are flaming darts, according to verse 16. He will try to hit us with doubt, or he will seek to distract us from spiritual disciplines, such as daily time in prayer and in the Word. He will try to use reason to convince us to avoid what we ought to do (e.g. - "I don't really have time to..." or "There are a lot of people who can do that...they don't need me."). He will tempt us to abandon witnessing. Whatever his scheme and trick in your life or in mine, we must know who our enemy is.

3. We must know what our objective is. Our objective is to stand. In verse 11, we are to stand against the devil's schemes. In verse 13, we are to take on the armor of God that we might withstand him, and after doing all of that...we stand. We ought to be standing in watchfulness, withstanding his every move and not giving in an inch. We are to remain standing. There is no time for relaxing; there is no vacation from warfare. We know that all too well with our men and women being overseas. There is no moment when the enemy is not seeking whom he may devour (1 Pt. 5:8).

In the movie White Christmas, the opening scene pictures a group of soldiers celebrating Christmas with a little self-made variety show. Bombs are going off around them, but they're having a party. It is tempting to think we can take a holiday from spiritual warfare, but we cannot. We will never retire from this objective. We must stand.

4. We must know what our defense is. Our defense, according to verse 13, is the armor of God. God supplies it...it is His defense for us. The order here indicates the order a Roman soldier would have put the pieces on.

A. The belt of truth (v. 14) - This is a picture of preparation. The soldiers would have had flowing garments that needed to be gathered up so they could be mobile. The belt prepared them for the action they must take. Truth is just such a belt for Christians. The word here (aletheia) can point to the Word of God, which we understand to be truth with no mixture of error. The word can also point to reality, or integrity. Both are necessary for the fight. If we misunderstand either, we can make terrible missteps. After all, we cannot do what is right until we know what is true (about the principles of God and about our situation).
B. The breastplate of righteousness (v. 14) - This is not the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. Remember, Paul is speaking to Christians, and it would make no sense for them to take up something they already have. No, this is the righteousness of daily life. It is daily obedience to Christ in mind, word, and deed. Derek Prime connects these first two pieces this way, "If, [based on what is true], we fail to do what we know is right, [then] we open a huge chink in our armor for Satan."
C. The gospel shoes (v. 15) - Shoes speak of readiness. Have your children ever told you they were ready to leave the house for a family outing, and then you saw they had no shoes on? Were they really ready? Our minds may comprehend the gospel, our hearts may love the gospel, and our lips may be willing to express the gospel. However, our feet must be ready to take us where the gospel is needed. After all, sitting targets are easier to hit than moving ones.
D. The shield of faith (v. 16) - Soldiers carried two shields, and Paul has the larger one in mind...the one meant to protect the whole body. In the battle against the enemy, faith is essential. We must daily exercise trust in God and dependence on God for all things. Self-reliance in our daily lives is equivalent to setting down this necessary piece of armor. The flaming darts will surely hit us.
E. The helmet of salvation (v. 17) - Again, this is not speaking of a past experience of conversion. Rather, it is the present, daily experience of the Lord's salvation in our lives. It is, as Jerry Bridges has said, preaching the gospel to ourselves. In addition to this, we hold on to what Paul calls the "hope of salvation" in 1 Thessalonians 5:8. This is that confident assurance of our ultimate victory and of God saving us from this present battle.
F. Notice there is nothing for the back. In The Pilgrim's Progress, Pilgrim enters the Valley of Humiliation, where he encounters the devil (i.e.- Apollyon). Apollyon is such a fierce creature that pilgrim wants to run, but he remembers he has no armor on his back. He realizes that the Lord must not have meant for him to run away. We run from temptation...we resist the devil.

We must know what our defense is.

5. We must know what our weaponry is. It is the sword of the Spirit (v. 17)...the Bible. The Bible was created by the Spirit for our spiritual fight and for our spiritual health. We need to know the Bible...read it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it. Around the time of the new year, Bible reading plans will be available for those who attend Gray Road. Whether you choose to read through the Bible in a year or not is up to you, but we must be reading it and knowing it if we are to use it in the daily fight. In the temptation accounts recorded by Matthew and Luke, it was this sword of the Spirit that our Lord Jesus used against the devil. Let us follow in His steps.

Prayer is our other weapon mentioned here (v. 18-20). We must pray in the Spirit (v. 18), meaning we have a deep desire to pray (not just fulfill a duty), and we pray in accordance with the sword of the Spirit...the Bible. We also pray continually (v. 18), with perseverance...we must not ever give up praying (Read Luke 18:1-8 for Jesus' teaching on this matter). When we pray "your kingdom come, your will be done", it's a direct assault on the devil and his demons, just as Jesus' teaching in Mark 1:21-28 provoked anger and resistance from the demon. We pray with variety (v. 18)...prayer and supplication. We pray general prayers, such as the Lord's prayer, and we pray specific prayers for the needs of the saints. Finally, we pray in support of the gospel (v. 19-20)...for those who are preaching and teaching the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Iain Murray has said, "A normal preacher, with a praying congregation behind him, can do extraordinary things."


This is a very familiar passage, and I'm sure that nothing written here is new to you. However, it is necessary to be reminded of the reality of spiritual warfare. It is easy to forget because it is unseen. Let me finish with a memory shared once by Derek Prime. He grew up in England, and during the second World War, times were hard. Throughout London, where he lived, families had loved ones fighting and losing their lives in the war. Food and supplies were also being rationed at the time. He says that as people would begin to complain about their difficulties or the rationing, one phrase would remind people of reality. He said it was constantly said on the street, and with this phrase, I will leave you to fight the good fight. "There's a war on."

Monday, November 23, 2009

An Open Letter to Gray Road Baptist Church

(For those who do not attend Gray Road Baptist Church but follow this blog, my family and I were blessed to receive a card shower from our congregation yesterday...November 22, 2009. This letter is a response to those gifts.)

Dear Gray Road Baptist Church,

Yesterday, I held a microphone at our Praise Offering banquet and thanked you for the card shower which was presented to me and my family. Now, after sitting on the couch in my living room and reading dozens and dozens of cards, I have to stop and say thank you again. Primarily, I am thankful to God for allowing me the privilege of serving you. In addition, I am thankful for each of you...for your gifts, for the promised prayers, for the family support, for the offers to babysit, and for so much more. Susan and I are truly overwhelmed by the expressions of love we have received from all of you.

As we begin this week of Thanksgiving, I echo Paul's words to the Philippians, "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you" (Phil. 1:3). I know it was a long journey for you, as a church, to get to the place of calling a pastor. It was also a long journey for our family, as well, as we waited for God to open the right door of ministry. We could not feel more humbled by God's placement of our family in this congregation.

Yesterday was the 46th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, and I'd like to give you a quote from his book called The Four Loves:

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable."

This is true of personal relationships, and it is true of pastor-church relationships. It can be a timid thing to "give your heart" to a new pastor and his family, especially if things have been strained or difficult in the past. However, I feel that you have done just that...and in amazing ways (both seen and unseen). I think this is why I feel so overwhelmed at all the encouraging words we have received from you...especially since there are still names I don't quite recognize!

Going forward, my prayer for this church is that of Paul in the same paragraph in Philippians: "And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving...we'll see you Sunday! (And yes, the blog entries will be back to normal next week.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Our Sinless High Priest

To listen to yesterday's sermon, just click on http://www.grayroad.com/index.cfm/pageid/723 and then select the sermon entitles "What Does the Temptation of Jesus Reveal?" In our study of Mark 1:12-13, we learned that Jesus is the submissive, sinless, successful Savior. Mark wants us to know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (1:1), and Jesus' temptation reveals just that.

Our primary application is to see Jesus as submissive, sinless, and successful as our Savior. We must see Him as He is. This is part of why we need to continually study the Bible...we never grow past it or stop learning. We need to maintain an accurate knowledge of God, of Christ, of sin, of ourselves, of mankind in general, of salvation, of the church, etc. As we learn the Word, it is the role of the Spirit to open our eyes and minds and hearts. As a result, we see, we understand, and we respond. We love God more, the joy of our salvation grows, we are conformed to the image of Christ, and much more.

So, as we look at this text, the primary goal is to see Jesus as He is...to have our vision of Him renewed. "Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art; Thou my best thought by day or by night; Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light." As a secondary thought, I want us to meditate briefly on Hebrews 4:14-16.

Here is the text of Hebrews 4:14-16: "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with great confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

So much can be said about these verses, but I want us to see how Jesus' sinlessness magnifies everything in this short paragraph. Why don't we make a list to help us "connect the dots?"

1. Jesus is a great high priest. This is obvious...it's right there in verse 14. What makes him a "great" high priest? It seems that we have a good idea from the next sentence.

2. Jesus is a great high priest because He has passed through the heavens. This doesn't just mean that Jesus ascended. He passed through the heavens as the high priest would pass into the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the sins of the people year after year. Unlike the other high priests' work, which had to be continued year after year, Jesus' work is a finished work, and He is now seated at the right hand of the Father because the work is completed for our salvation. He is a great high priest.

2. Jesus is a great high priest because He sympathizes with our weaknesses and has shared in temptation. The text says He is a great high priest that has passed through the heavens. Then, the writer goes on to clarify what he means by "great." Jesus identifies with us...He identifies with us in our weaknesses and temptations. Some believe that God couldn't possibly understand what they're going through. In Jesus Christ, we don't have a distant, aloof high priest. We have a GREAT high priest, who has experienced the weaknesses and temptations of being human. He truly understands. As one song puts it well, "He did not keep Himself away, He was no stranger to my pain. He walked a mile in my shoes."

3. Jesus is a great high priest because He passed through the heavens, sympathizes with our weaknesses and temptations, and He never sinned. Jesus' work as our high priest could not have been perfect and complete were it not for His sinlessness. Jesus' identification with us in our weakness and temptation would not be as great if He was corrupted by sin. However, He is great...His work is perfect and complete...His identification with us is real and comforting...because He is without sin. Being fully human, He stood apart from the rest of humanity before and after him. He is a unique high priest...He is a GREAT high priest.

4. Because Jesus is a great high priest, let us hold fast our confession and draw near to the throne of grace. Our confession of the faith is certain and eternal because it is based squarely on the person and work of Jesus...not on our upbringing, not on our personal experience, but on the real, historical Jesus...the sinless, great high priest. So, as we move about in our social circles, in our work environments, and in our families, let us hold fast our confession. Also, let us draw near to the throne of grace. Because Jesus was sinless as He experienced weakness and temptation, He is our great source of strength and help in our times of need. So, let us not be apathetic in approaching prayer. We have a great high priest who understands and has an abundant supply of mercy and grace at His disposal.

Jesus is a great high priest who has passed through the heavens. He knows our weakness, He has been tempted, and He is sinless. As we begin another week, then, let us be strengthened in our faith...so that our confession of Christ is bold and our prayer lives are bold as well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Trinity is Important, Part 3

Below are the last four reasons for the importance of the trinity, taken from chapter 1 of Dr. Bruce Ware's book...Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance. The six reasons previously posted are stated without the extra thoughts, and then the last four have been added (each with part of Dr. Ware's elaboration of the reason).


1. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith and therefore is deserving of our careful study, passionate embrace, and thoughtful application.

2. The doctrine of the Trinity is both central and necessary for the Christian faith to be what it is. Remove the Trinity, and the whole Christian faith disintegrates.

3. Worship of the true and living God consciously acknowledges the relationship and roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

4. The Christian's life of prayer must rightly acknowledge the roles of Father, Son, and Spirit as we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit.

5. The Christian's growth in Christlikeness or sanctification is rightly understood and enriched when seen as the work of the triune God.

6. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the unity of the triune God.

7. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the diversity within the triune God.

The three Persons of the Godhead exhibit distinct roles in relation to one another. Distinct tasks and activities in accomplishing their common plan characterize nearly all of the work that the true and living God undertakes...The Father is the eternal Father, the Son the eternal Son, and the Spirit eternally distinct from both Father and Son. This diversity speaks of the richness of God, while never allowing the richness of differentiation to lead to discord.

8. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to wonder at the social relationality of the triune God.

God is never 'alone.' He never experiences, whether with or without the world he has made, a sense of individual isolation and 'loneliness.' He never has been lonely or alone, in this sense, nor could he ever be, even in principle. The one God is three!...In this tri-Personal relationship the three Persons love one another, support one another, assist one another, team with one another, honor one another, communicate with one another, and in everything respect and enjoy one another. They are in need of nothing but each other throughout all eternity. Such is the richness and the fullness and the completion of the social relationship that exists in the Trinity.

9. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the authority-submission structure that exists eternally in the three Persons in the Godhead, each of whom is equally and fully God.

In this authority-submission structure, the three Persons understand the rightful place each has. The Father possesses the place of supreme authority, and the Son is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. As such, the Son submits to the Father just as the Father...exercises authority over the Son. And the Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son. This...structure of authority exists in the eternal Godhead even though it is also eternally true that each Person is fully equal to each other...

10. The doctrine of the Trinity - one God existing in three Persons in the ways we have described - provides one of the most important and neglected patterns for how human life and human relationships are to be conducted.

In the end, the doctrine of the Trinity is eminently practical, and the church can benefit much from understanding and modeling its own life, work, and relationships after the Trinity. As we understand better the nature of the Trinity...we have the opportunity to pattern what we do after God's design. We are made in the image of God, and so we can live rightly and best only when we mirror in our relationships the relationships true of the eternal God himself. Yes, we are called to be like God in character, but we also are created to be like God in relationship with one another. To miss this is to miss part of the wonder of human life, and it stems from failing to see something more of the wonder of God himself. May we see...the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...and may we learn...how our relationships and work ought to be lived out, for our good and for the glory of his great and triune name.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Trinity is Important, Part 2

As promised, here are some more reasons for the importance of the trinity, taken from chapter 1 of Dr. Bruce Ware's book...Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance. The first three reasons are stated without the extra thoughts, and then three more have been added (each with part of Dr. Ware's elaboration of the reason).


1. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith and therefore is deserving of our careful study, passionate embrace, and thoughtful application.

2. The doctrine of the Trinity is both central and necessary for the Christian faith to be what it is. Remove the Trinity, and the whole Christian faith disintegrates.

3. Worship of the true and living God consciously acknowledges the relationship and roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

4. The Christian's life of prayer must rightly acknowledge the roles of Father, Son, and Spirit as we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit.

If Jesus taught us to pray to the Father, then we ought to do this. For one reason or another, we sometimes follow a different practice. We may encourage our children, especially, to open their prayers with, "Dear Jesus," despite the fact that Jesus said to pray "Our Father in heaven"...we should pray to the Father through the Son. Jesus Christ is the mediator. He is the one through whom we address the Father. He is the one who brings us access to the Father. Our prayers bring spiritual benefit only when we pray in his name. And prayers that bring fruit in the kingdom are those offered in the power of the Spirit. We pray as the Spirit prompts and urges us to pray. So prayer rightly understood - Christian prayer - is prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. To pray aright, we need a deep appreciation for the doctrine of the Trinity.

5. The Christian's growth in Christlikeness or sanctification is rightly understood and enriched when seen as the work of the triune God.

First, the Father ordains and secures our holiness...Ephesians 1...This ordained plan then moves toward becoming reality in the lives of sinners as the Son lives [a holy life]...and then dies to pay for and defeat our sin...But even with the plan of the Father and the saving work of the Son, we are not declared holy or remade until we put our faith in Christ. Then, by faith, we begin the life-long process of conformity into his likeness, and here the Spirit [works]...in opening our eyes to see the glory of the Son (2 Cor. 4:6) and in making us like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). So our sanctification is done by the triune God, with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each participating in different but completely complementary ways.

6. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the unity of the triune God.

The three persons are never in conflict of purpose, never jealous over another's position or specific work, never prideful over one's own position or work, and they are always sharing fully the delight in being the one God accomplishing the unified purpose of God...Each divine Person accepts his role, each in proper relation to the others, and each works together with the others for one unified, common purpose.

Check back on Friday for the last four reasons that the doctrine of the Trinity is so important.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Trinity is Important

Additional thoughts on Mark 1:9-11. (These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church. If you would like to listen, just go to the sermons page (http://www.grayroad.com/index.cfm/pageid/723) and the title is "The Identity of Jesus")

"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'"

This week's follow-up entries will focus on a secondary teaching found in Mark 1:9-11. It is not secondary because it is unimportant...it is secondary because it is not the primary teaching of these three verses. As you can see, in the account of Jesus' baptism, we have a clear display of the trinity. God the Father is speaking in verse 11, God the Son is being baptized, and God the Spirit descends in verse 10.

Now, the word "trinity" does not appear in the Bible, but it is one of the most important doctrines in the Bible. It helps to answer the question "What is God like?" The word trinity comes from Latin and means 'tri-unity'. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem gives the following definition of the doctrine of the Trinity: "God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God." (p. 226)

There are three ideas that are put forward in such a definition. (1) God exists in three persons. (2) Each person is fully God. (3) There is one God. (from p. 231 of the same book) Now, another way I have heard this put is in the following summary: "God the Father is fully God. God the Son (Jesus) is fully God. God the Spirit (Holy Spirit) is fully God. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father. There is one God." Confused yet? Though it is a very important doctrine, there is mystery to it.

We will never be able to fully comprehend with our finite mental capacities. However, if you'd like to look at some Bible texts to help point you to three distinct persons, all of whom are God (and that there is only one God), here are some for your own consideration (taken from http://www.sbc.net/bfm/pdf/The%20Baptist%20Faith%20and%20Message.pdf).

On God the Father: Genesis 1:1; 2:7; Exodus 3:14; 6:2-3; 15:11ff.; 20:1ff.; Leviticus 22:2; Deuteronomy 6:4; 32:6; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Psalm 19:1-3; Isaiah 43:3,15; 64:8; Jeremiah 10:10; 17:13; Matthew 6:9ff.; 7:11; 23:9; 28:19; Mark 1:9-11; John 4:24; 5:26; 14:6-13; 17:1-8; Acts 1:7; Romans 8:14-15; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 4:6; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 11:6; 12:9; 1 Peter 1:17; 1 John 5:7.

On God the Son: Genesis 18:1ff.; Psalms 2:7ff.; 110:1ff.; Isaiah 7:14; 53; Matthew 1:18-23; 3:17; 8:29; 11:27; 14:33; 16:16,27; 17:5; 27; 28:1-6,19; Mark 1:1; 3:11; Luke 1:35; 4:41; 22:70; 24:46; John 1:1-18,29; 10:30,38; 11:25-27; 12:44-50; 14:7-11; 16:15-16,28; 17:1-5, 21-22; 20:1-20,28; Acts 1:9; 2:22-24; 7:55-56; 9:4-5,20; Romans 1:3-4; 3:23-26; 5:6-21; 8:1-3,34; 10:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2:2; 8:6; 15:1-8,24-28; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21; 8:9; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:20; 3:11; 4:7-10; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:13-22; 2:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 3:16; Titus 2:13-14; Hebrews 1:1-3; 4:14-15; 7:14-28; 9:12-15,24-28; 12:2; 13:8; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:22; 1 John 1:7-9; 3:2; 4:14-15; 5:9; 2 John 7-9; Revelation 1:13-16; 5:9-14; 12:10-11; 13:8; 19:16.

On God the Spirit: Genesis 1:2; Judges 14:6; Job 26:13; Psalms 51:11; 139:7ff.; Isaiah 61:1-3; Joel 2:28-32; Matthew 1:18; 3:16; 4:1; 12:28-32; 28:19; Mark 1:10,12; Luke 1:35; 4:1,18-19; 11:13; 12:12; 24:49; John 4:24; 14:16-17,26; 15:26; 16:7-14; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4,38; 4:31; 5:3; 6:3; 7:55; 8:17,39; 10:44; 13:2; 15:28; 16:6; 19:1-6; Romans 8:9-11,14-16,26-27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14; 3:16; 12:3-11,13; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; 5:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:19; 1 Timothy 3:16; 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:14; 3:16; Hebrews 9:8,14; 2 Peter 1:21; 1 John 4:13; 5:6-7; Revelation 1:10; 22:17.

If it would help, print this out, and take time in your personal Bible study to look up the passages mentioned previously. I remember being blessed when I first looked them all up. I also remember being overwhelmed at the Scripture's constant testimony to what God is like. If you are like I was, then a study like this might just change you. You will no longer be one whose doctrine of the Trinity is based solely on a pastor's sermons or a Sunday school teacher's lessons. You will have the confidence of knowing that your doctrine of the Trinity came from your own study of the Scripture.

Now, before moving on...I know that what will follow may feel like a bit much to try and digest. If that's the case, just take it slow. Read some, pray, and think about it. Ask God to help you see the importance of His being one God in three persons, and ask for His Spirit to be your Teacher.

Now, why is this doctrine so important? Another helpful resource here will be Dr. Bruce Ware's Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance. In it, he lists ten reasons why the doctrine of the trinity is so important. In order to let you digest it slowly, I will post three reasons here, three more on Wednesday, and the final four on Friday (by the way, multiple posts during the week will not become the norm). Each reason will be stated, and then I will include some of Dr. Ware's thoughts about that reason. I pray that dwelling on these truths all week will cause us all to live in light of this important doctrine.


"1. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith and therefore is deserving of our careful study, passionate embrace, and thoughtful application.

As one considers the distinctiveness of Christianity compared to other religions and ideas, clearly the doctrine of the Trinity not only distinguishes the Christian faith from all others, it also establishes the basis for all that we hold dear as Christian believers. The doctrine shows us in essential and glorious ways what it is to be 'Christian.' To know the Christian faith, and to know what it means to be a Christian, one must see more clearly what it means for God to be triune...

How enriched our lives can be, and how much more joyful our experience and fruitful our service, when informed by an intimate knowledge of who God is. Let us press on, then, to know with greater clarity the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

2. The doctrine of the Trinity is both central and necessary for the Christian faith to be what it is. Remove the Trinity, and the whole Christian faith disintegrates.

Can the Christian faith survive, as it were, if the doctrine of the Trinity is omitted? Are we aware of just how crucial this doctrine is to all else we believe as Christians?...our salvation comes as the Father judges our sin in the Son, who became incarnate and lived his life in the power of the Spirit as the perfect and sinless God-man, and accomplished his perfect obedience to the Father through the power of the Spirit. Disregard the Trinity and you necessarily undermine salvation. More can be said, but this example is sufficient to demonstrate how crucial this doctrine is to the whole of our faith as Christians.

3. Worship of the true and living God consciously acknowledges the relationship and roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As Paul demonstrates in Ephesians 1:13-14, the whole of God's work is accomplished in a trinitarian framework, and hence the worship of this God - the true and living God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - necessarily requires a conscious understanding and honoring of the Trinity...Paul is saying that praise to God must be given to God the Father, through the Son, in light of his blessings being mediated to us by the Spirit. So here we have in one verse the praise of God, who is none other than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...Christian worship is inherently trinitarian."

If you can, come back on Wednesday to see a few more reasons this doctrine is so important. If you feel overwhelmed, just print it out and save it for later. Or...come back to the blog at another time and find the entries. They're not going anywhere. May the Lord bless your study and cause to grow in grace and knowledge.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mark's View of the Scripture

More thoughts on Mark 1:1-8.

As I think more about the words of these eight verses, one small phrase stands out. It is a phrase that appears in almost the same form about 150 times in the New Testament. It is a phrase that should encourage and strengthen us as we read, study, and teach the Bible...for the rest of our lives. At the same time, it is tempting to think of this phrase as just an introductory one, with no real significance. Looking at the pages of the New Testament, this can't be true. What are these words? Look to the beginning of verse 2 and you'll see them. They are the words "as it is written".

All 150 times that this phrase appears, including the one here in Mark 1, this verb "is written" is in the perfect tense. The perfect tense in the Greek language has a wonderful meaning. When a verb is in the perfect tense, it means that the action is complete, but the action has lasting consequences. In other words, the verb tense of "it is written" communicates that the words Mark quotes have been written in the past, but the value and effects of those words are lasting. They continue to resonate with truth. As Mark uses this phrase to introduce prophecy about John the Baptist and his ministry, he is affirming the enduring authority and sufficiency of the Scripture.

This should encourage and strengthen us in our daily Bible reading, in our personal study of the Bible, and in our corporate teaching of the Bible. The Scripture that has been handed down to us has authority to teach us about God, man, sin, salvation, life, the church, and more. In addition to this, the Scripture is sufficient for all that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Every time we open the Scripture, this phrase...at least its meaning...should prepare our minds and hearts to receive what we read, study, and hear taught.

So, in addition to affirming the abiding value and authority of the Old Testament, Mark will show us how he interprets the Old Testament. This interpretation shows up in all the major English translations of the Bible. When Mark quotes Malachi 3:1, the Old Testament wording that the coming messenger would "prepare (or clear the way) before me" becomes "who will prepare your/thy way" in Mark 1:2. The first person ('me') becomes the second person ('your'). In addition, Isaiah 40:3 says that the messenger would prepare "a highway for our God", and this is changed to "his paths" or "paths for him" (Mark 1:3), pointing Mark's readers to a person.

What's happening here? What is Mark doing? How is he interpreting these Old Testament passages? Mark does not see the Old Testament in the same way anymore. It looks different in his eyes, and it is quoted differently through his pen. Why? The answer lies in his opening phrase. This is the gospel about "Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Not only is Mark pointing his readers to Jesus, he sees the Old Testament prophecies about John the Baptist ultimately pointing to Jesus, too.

J.C. Ryle has written, "There was nothing unforeseen and suddenly contrived in the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. In the very beginning of Genesis we find it predicted that the woman’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). All through the OT we find the same event foretold with constantly increasing clearness. It was a promise often renewed to patriarchs, and repeated by prophets, that a deliverer and redeemer would one day come. His birth, his character, his life, his death, his resurrection, his forerunner were all prophesied long before he came. Redemption was worked out and accomplished in every step, just as it was written.

"We should always read the OT with a desire to find something in it about Jesus Christ. We study this part of the Bible with little profit if we can see nothing but Moses, David, Samuel and the prophets. Let us search the books of the OT more carefully. It was said by Jesus, whose words can never pass away, ‘these are the Scriptures that testify about me’ (John 5:39)."

So, as we read, study, and teach the Bible, let us be confident in the authority and sufficiency of the Scripture. As we read, study, and teach the Bible, let us keep our eyes looking toward the author and perfecter of our faith...the Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Did He Just Say 'Idolator'?

Further thoughts on Mark 1:1-8. (These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis, IN. If you would like to listen to that message, go to www.grayroad.com, click on "Sermons", and then find "Prepare the Way of the Lord".)

"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

'Behold, I will send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
"Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,"'

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."'

So, what's the point? That is at the heart of my efforts to preach expository sermons. That big word just means that the main point of the text is the main point of the sermon. So, what's the point here? What is Mark driving at? I believe it's clear that Mark is driving at the greater quality of Jesus' person and work over John the Baptist, about whom Jesus would say, "...among those born of women none is greater..." (Luke 7:28). John the Baptist's ministry was so great that some wondered if he might be the Christ (Luke 3:15), and on one Catholic website, it is even asserted...

"John the Baptist...had original sin, but no personal sins whatsoever. John the Baptist never committed the least personal sin in his entire life, not even a single, semi-deliberate venial (i.e.- minor) sin. John the Baptist never committed even the least of sins in his heart, mind, words, or actions." (http://www.catholicplanet.com/future/John-Baptist.htm)

That seems pretty unbelievable, doesn't it? It is clear, though, that John the Baptist was highly esteemed then, and he is today. In many ways, this is a good and right esteem, for He was greatly used of God to 'prepare the way of the Lord'. However, no matter how highly esteemed John the Baptist is, Mark must make clear that Jesus is greater. His power is greater ('mightier than I'), his significance is greater ('not worthy to stoop down and untie' his sandals), and his work is greater ('he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit'). whatever else we might say about these 8 verses in Mark, we must primarily concern ourselves with what it primary.

Does all that make sense? I hope so. Now, let's walk forward to the personal application. If I had a guess, you probably weren't looking to hear the word 'idolator' in yesterday's message. We were seeking to apply the idea that Jesus is greater than John the Baptist...really, that He is greater than any preacher or pastor or missionary or servant of God...that He is greater than all.

In thinking about this, we noted that God has established relationships in which some lead and some follow (e.g. - church, family, workplace, and even society). It is good and right to have mentoring relationships, to have people from whom you can seek godly counsel, and to have men preaching and teaching God's Word for the benefit of our souls. But...if our allegiance is to these types of people over and above Jesus, then we have become idolators. That was the context...remember it? Still, 'idolator' does feel like a strong word...are we sure we want to use it? Is there a better word?

Let's think on this by looking to a couple of sources for definitions of 'idolatry':

Easton's Bible Dictionary
"Image-worship or divine honour paid to a created object...The forms of idolatry are (1) Fetishism, or the worship of trees, rivers, hills, stones, etc. (2) Nature worship, or the worship of the sun, moon, and stars, as the supposed powers of nature. (3) Hero worship, the worship of deceased ancestors, or heroes."

Unger's Bible Dictionary
"In a general sense idolatry is the paying of divine honor to any created thing; the ascription of divine power to natural agencies. Idolatry may be classeified as follows: (1) the worship of inanimate objects...; (2) of animals; (3) of the higher powers of nature...; (4) hero-worship or of deceased ancestors; (5) idealism, or the worship of abstractions or mental qualities, such as justice..."

The interesting idea in both of these definitions is that what we call "hero worship", which would be the direct application from our text, would be giving divine honor to a created being...or ascribing divine power to natural agencies. We may think, "I don't think of that person as God." Well, we may not have such an overtly idolatrous thought, but let's ask ourselves some questions.

Do I turn to this person before I turn to the Scripture when I am looking for answers about life, about God, about salvation, about the church, etc.? When I read that person's book, do I "examine the Scriptures...to see if these things are so", or do I simply assimilate that man or woman's teaching into my thoughts and life with no further study? If the counsel I receive from this person doesn't quite make sense, do I just assume that I they are probably right and go forward with what they have suggested, or do I take time to seek the Lord in His Word and pray?

These are not a formula, by any stretch, but they can be helpful guides for us. Let me finish with a personal story. After the Lord called me into ministry, I had the chance to work with some great youth pastors and pastors. I was an intern in the churches they served, and I loved every minute of it. Once I landed in a full-time ministry role, I found myself overwhelmed, as many young pastors do. It seemed that almost every week, I was calling one of these men to run a situation past them, and whatever they thought was best, I would do it...it just made sense. I trusted them...why wouldn't I just act on what they say?

A few years into my ministry career, having continued this mode of calling every time I felt a little stuck, things changed. One by one, God removed these men from the pedastals on which I had set them in varying ways. As I went through this time of my life, heartbroken by what was happening in these men's lives, God opened my eyes to what was going on in my own heart. I didn't just have mentors, friends, and counselors. I had idols. I didn't consider any of these men 'God', but I would have failed horribly if I was asked those questions written just a couple of paragraphs ago. So, I had to repent of such idolatry. I still love these men, and I still get counsel from them at times. However, the way in which I receive counsel is different. They never meant to be my final authority...I had given it to them.

We must always be on guard to this kind of idolatry. We should and must depend on one another...it's what the New Testament protrays when it teaches us about the church. Still, it must always be clear that our ultimate dependence is on Christ and His Word. "Little children, keep yourself from idols" (1 John 5:21).

If you have time, come back to the blog on Wednesday afternoon, November 4, to read a couple more thoughts from Mark 1:1-8.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Central Message of the Church

Reflections on Mark 1:1, 14-15.

"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God...Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'"

As I reflect on yesterday's corporate worship, one thing that has stuck with me is a song we sang. "My Soul Finds Rest in God Alone" has been in my head since the service, and being based on Psalm 62, it truly expresses the joy and security of one who has embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (in fact, I have it playing on my computer as I am typing this entry).

Moving forward to the sermon from yesterday's service, the focus to which we came was that the gospel was at the heart of what Mark wrote and why Mark wrote. As I continue to meditate on this truth, it must be re-emphasized that Mark's focus must be the church's focus. I want to quote several portions of Millard Erikson's Systematic Theology on this point. He has a wonderful section that talks about the gospel being the heart of the church's mission.

Erikson writes:
"It is important for us to look closely at the one factor that gives basic shape to everything the church does, the element that lies at the heart of all its functions, namely, the gospel, the good news. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus announced that he had been anointed specially to preach the gospel; later he charged the apostles to continue his ministry by spreading the gospel...

"Paul viewed the gospel as centering on Jesus Christ and what God has done through him. The essential points of the gospel are Jesus Christ's status as the Son of God, his genuine humanity, his death for our sins, his burial, his resurrection, subsequent appearances, and future coming in judgment. It may well be said that, in Paul's view, Jesus Christ is the gospel...To Paul, the gospel is all-important...Convinced that only the gospel can bring salvation along with all its attendant blessings, Paul insists that the gospel is absolute and exclusive. Nothing is to be added to or taken from it, nor is there any alternate route to salvation...

"This gospel not only cuts across all racial, social, economic, and educational barriers (Rom. 1:16; Gal. 3:28), but also spans the centuries of time. A message that does not become obsolete (Jude 3), it is the church's sacred trust today. In an age in which most ideas and systems of thought, as well as techniques and commodities, are of a throwaway variety, the church has an infallible and enduring resource - a message that is the only means of salvation. The church can display the same confidence in the gospel that Paul had, for it is still the same gospel; time has not eroded its effectiveness...

"Because the gospel has been, is, and will always be the way of salvation, the only way, the church must preserve the gospel at all costs. When the gospel is modified, the vitality of the church is lost. The church dies."

This sums it up, doesn't it? The gospel must remain the central message of the church. Maybe you have heard the word 'evangelical' thrown around when surveys or talk show hosts speak about a certain type of Christian. Whatever the survey or talk show host may mean, the word 'evangelical' pertains to those who are people of the gospel. It is not a demarcation of a particular political view...it is a view of all of life that centers on the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Our challenge as a church is to be a people of the gospel. To use language based in the Reformation, we must hold tightly to salvation by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), in Christ alone (solus Christus), according to the Scripture alone (sola scriptura), for the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria)! By the way, these five phrases are known as the "5 solas". "Sola" means alone or only in the Latin language.

In thinking about how being a "gospel people", one of the most obvious applications would be in the realm of personal evangelism. When we think of those in our family or among our circle of friends who do not believe in Christ, what is it that they need. Often, I hear people say "So and so needs to get in church." Now, I hope that what we mean by something like this is that "so and so" needs to hear the gospel, and a church would be a great place to allow them to do so. However, not all people may believe that...some actually believe that church attendance can contribute to their acceptance by God. If that is the case, then 'getting in church' helps bring justification...the divine declaration that we are righteous in God's sight.

How does that sit with you? I hope it disturbs you a little. People of the gospel (evangelicals) must be clear about what does and does not bring salvation. So, when we think of those lost friends and family members, let's begin to think of 'getting them the gospel' rather than just 'getting them in church'. This focuses our mind and heart on the real issue...salvation.

I know that this seems like a small thing and an insignificant application, but all these little things will add up. As God's people, we have been entrusted with the gospel, and we have been charged to hold fast to it and to spread its message to the world. This message is not just for the evangelizing of the lost but for the comfort, hope, and help of those who belong to Christ.

Clinging to this gospel and its importance is a battle. The enemy of our souls is diametrically opposed to the commission Jesus has given us. However, the battle for the centrality of the gospel will not begin with a sudden temptation to stop believing the gospel is important or suddenly stop embracing the truth that Jesus is the only way of salvation. It will begin in small areas of our minds and hearts...maybe even as small as thinking that what the unbelieving world really needs is not so much a message...but just to 'get in church'.

May we continue to be a people of the gospel, and even when some may come to Gray Road because they feel the need 'to get in church,' may they not find just a gathering of people...but rather a gathering of gospel people, of evangelical people. And may the God of this gospel grant new life by His Spirit!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wise Words from a Departing Leader

Thoughts on Acts 20:17-38.

Yesterday was the last Sunday that the interim pastor was set to preach. I take over the pulpit ministry as senior pastor next Sunday. However, this was no ordinary interim pastor. He had once been the pastor of the church...for 25 years or so. After two pastors had come and gone, he stepped back into the pulpit in January of this year to preach each Sunday morning. Yesterday, the church celebrated God's grace in Pastor Glen Lockwood's ministry and Pastor Lockwood's faithfulness to God, His Word, and His people through his ministry here. As part of the regular service of worship, I read from Acts 20...the passage I'm thinking about today. It seemed appropriate at the close of Pastor Lockwood's time in the pulpit and in the transition to a new pastoral tenure. I was edified by the Scripture afresh as I thought about the years behind and the years to come, and I thought I would share some brief comments about the text. First, though...read the text. Pull out your Bible, and read it. This is a good habit. Don't just read Bible studies about texts...read the texts. If you are able, read it out loud...I usually find things that seem to stay invisible when read silently.

Ok...I want us to focus on the instructions Paul leaves these elders for the future of their church. They may be helpful as we think about the church contexts in which we live and serve.

1) To sum up Paul's testimony about his ministry at Ephesus, he wants the elders to realize that they know certain things about his ministry, and they should remember them. He lived among them (v.18), serving through tears and trials (v. 19, 31), but he never shrank from the task at hand...preaching the gospel of grace and teaching them (v. 20-21, 26-27). He wasn't after money, but he worked hard to provide for himself and others, being generous with his earnings (v. 33-35). In other words, he served faithfully in every circumstance so that he might accomplish the goal set forth in Colossians 1:28-29: "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." What a tremendous testimony! Paul leaves a wonderful example for the Ephesian elders to follow. Their depth of love for him and appreciation for his ministry among them must have been part of why there was "much weeping" as they knew they would not see him again.

This was evident yesterday as person after person told me of the 'big shoes' I would have to fill. This was nothing but a testimony of the place that Pastor Lockwood has in the hearts of these people...because of his faithfulness through tears and trials.

2) Next, think on the warnings Paul gives the elders to consider with regard to the whole congregation (v. 28ff). The overall instruction to the elders is that they must "pay careful attention to [themselves] and to all the flock". This flock has been purchased by the blood of Christ, and they have been made overseers of this flock by the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit. This, in itself, makes the task a momentous one. As we look across our congregations, let's really think on that. The blood of Christ brought these sheep into a flock. It is not the children's program or the musical style or the visitation practices of the pastor or excellent communication or pretty buildings or advanced technology that bind us together. It is the blood of Christ that has made us one. Then, after purchasing and assembling men and women together in one geographic location, the Spirit set aside men who are to be elders of that flock...overseers...men who will give an account for those they lead. It is God who assembled them, and it is God who raised up elders among them. The weight of this responsibility is one that cannot be imagined by those who have not borne it.

Though this would certainly be enough reason for Paul's instruction, it's not the only reason the apostle charges them to "pay careful attention". He goes on, in v. 28-29, to remind them of the reality of the world in which they will live and work. While it is a divine work of grace that brought them together and a divine calling of the Spirit that placed them in leadership, it is not a Utopian work they must do. It is a real and sinful and hard world in which they will serve the Lord, and the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4) will still be "seeking someone to devour" (1 Pt. 5:8b). This demonic strategy will show itself in two distinct kinds of attacks. First, wolves will come in from the outside and will not spare the sheep. Second, some from within the church will begin to teach twisted doctrine and try to gain a following for themselves.

As leaders, then, the tears and trials that Paul faced will be theirs as well. The persecution he faced will face them. The bullseye on his chest will now mark them, but they must not shrink back from preaching and teaching the gospel of grace. They must protect the church from the wolves from the outside. They must also weed out the false teachers from within, in order to protect the followers of Christ and the doctrine/testimony of the church

These words of warning hit home with me as I begin this new work of ministry, and they should be words heeded by any who go through a kind of leadership transition like this. The church planter leaves for a new work, and a more permanent pastor is taking that ministry...pay careful attention! The missionary has trained natives to be elders and leaders in their churches, and the missionary is going to move on to a new unreached people group...pay careful attention! A pastor steps down, and a new pastor begins...pay careful attention!

Honestly, these are words for any time in a church's life. There should not come a day, on this side of eternity, where we cease being on guard against attacks from without and from within. There is no spiritual "sigh of relief" for those who still live in these bodies in this world. The enemy is still seeking to steal and kill and destroy, so we must be on guard.

It was a wonderful day of honoring the ministry of Pastor Lockwood, and it was a wonderful time of remembering that there would be no honorable ministry of Pastor Lockwood apart from the grace of God which is at work in him. However, yesterday was not meant to signal the end of spiritual warfare for me or for this church. If anything, the pressures, temptations, trials, and tears may increase in the days to come. That is why we must not only shed tears for the faithful servant who is stepping aside, but we must also "take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm" (Eph. 6:13).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Friend's Reflection on His Pastor

This morning, I read the tribute of a dear friend to the pastor of his home church upon his retirement. I commend it to myself and to you for reflection. Today, there are many personal opinions about what a pastor should do and be, and unfortunately, there aren't enough godly examples. I would say that this reflection will remind us all, whether in the pulpit or the pew, of the value of pastoral ministry. I pray God will refresh your vision of pastoral ministry through these words.

Just click on this link, enjoy, and have a great day!


Friday, April 10, 2009

Missing the Point for the Interesting Points

Thoughts on Daniel 2.

Before we get to the text, let me say hello again. I have a stat counter that tracks this blog, and I can see that over the last 2 1/2 months, several have been coming back to see if there was anything new. The answer has unfortunately been no. Blogging has recently felt a bit like dieting does to most people. You know the thought, "I'll get to that tomorrow." Today is tomorrow...and hopefully the blogging will stick.

Now to Daniel 2...I'll summarize some of this chapter and then quote a significant portion. The opening scene of the chapter is of a disturbed king. Nebuchadnezzar has been having awful dreams; his mind was consumed with them, and he was losing sleep. So, he turns to all the men he normally turns to in these situations...the magicians, the astrologers, the enchanters, the sorcerers. However, when they come before him, there's a twist. He doesn't just want them to interpret the dream. He wants them to tell him the substance of his dream and then the interpretation of it. Now that's a different ballgame altogether, isn't it?

After Nebuchadnezzar's counselors try to buy some time, it becomes obvious that they don't know anything. So, the king decrees that these men are to die. Daniel is recruited to be a hit man, and after finding out why the men were going to die, he asks if he might be able to help the king. During the night God reveals the dream and its interpretation to Daniel, and Daniel praises God for this.

Once Daniel appears before the king, Nebuchadnezzar asks if he can tell the king his dream and its interpretation. Daniel says, "No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries." Now, here's Daniel telling the king his dream...here's the big quote...verses 31-35.

"You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue - an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth."

A pretty amazing dream...and understandable why the king might be disturbed, if we use our imaginations and play that movie in our mind's eye. Daniel follows immediately with the interpretation. The head of gold is Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom. After him, there would be a progression of lesser kingdoms that would have great power. However, this rock that smashes the image and becomes an earth-covering mountain is God establishing His kingdom. Listen to Daniel's description: "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever" (v. 44).

Now, why did I title this entry "missing the point for the interesting points"? Here it is in a nutshell. People are fascinated with this vision, as they should be. Some believers are so fascinated with prophecy that they dive deep into the study of this dream, which is a good thing. There are many interesting discussions about who these kingdoms are. Most commentators tend to agree that the first three are Babylon (since that's what Daniel says), Persia, and Greece. From there, various opinions are held.

It is fascinating to look at empires in world history and talk about who these kingdoms in Daniel 2 may be. In fact, this kind of study and discussion can lead to a couple of different positions with regard to the end times. First, if all of these kingdoms lead us to the time of Christ's first coming, then the kingdom that is established forever is the kingdom Jesus came preaching. Remember his message? "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Also, Jesus speaks to Pharisees about the kingdom of God being in their midst (Luke 17:21). In this view, the stone becoming the mountain is the spread of God's kingdom until it covers every nation, tribe, tongue, and people. This interpretation is part of amillennialism, which is the belief that the 1000-year reign of Christ in Revelation 20 is symbolic and not literal.

Another view is called premillennialism, which is the belief that Christ will reign for a literal 1000 years on earth. Those coming from this viewpoint see Nebuchadnezzar's vision as the prophecy about this time. It is Christ's second coming that will initiate the destruction of the others. Then, all the other kingdoms are done away with and the stone, God's kingdom, suddenly expands and covers the whole earth as He reigns.

Those who hold these views often sit and talk about such things. They discuss the progression of kingdoms in the dream...who are they? They discuss the nature of the coming of God's kingdom in power...when will it be? How will it happen? There can be great debate over such issues. As I'm sure you are aware, believers can be quite passionate about these areas of end times study. You may be feeling some kind of disturbance rising up within you because I am not denouncing one view or another in this regard.

Now, before I ask a serious question, let me say three things very briefly: (1) serious Bible study is good and right for the believer, (2) seeking to understand the Bible fully is a necessary pursuit for Christians, and (3) though there may be disagreement among honest, thoughtful Christians, there is a right answer in these types of dilemmas of interpretation. Having said these things, I must ask the question that may help us in these matters: What is the purpose of Daniel 2?

I am not certain that the point of Nebuchadnezzar's dream was so that we could debate "pre" vs. "a" millennialism. In fact, I feel certain that this was not God's purpose in giving it. Paul writes to Timothy that the Scripture is "able to make us wise unto salvation" (2 Tim. 3:15). How does this portion of Scripture help get us to that end? Well, take off the "end times" lens and look at it for what it is. This dream is the communication of the Lord God to a pagan king...a king who was an instrument of God's judgment against God's people but who rejects God's kingship over His creation. Did you notice that the only kingdom identified was Babylon? That is significant; God is primarily addressing Nebuchadnezzar in this dream.

God is not wanting any to perish, not even a pagan king. In His grace, He is trying to show something significant to Nebuchadnezzar. He wants to humble him. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who are humbled will be exalted. The only way that God can work in Nebuchadnezzar's life is to first humble him.

In essence, this dream is God's way of saying, "Yes, Nebuchadnezzar, you have a great kingdom. It is a powerful kingdom, and it may be the most powerful kingdom in all of human history. But do not forget that I AM KING. I will share My glory with no other. There is no king besides Me. You have a measure of splendor and majesty, but it pales in comparison with Mine. Your kingdom is here today and gone tomorrow, but My kingdom is forever. If your hope is placed in the future glory of your kingdom, then it will be destroyed like the statue in this dream I have given you. But if you trust in the one true God, then you will be part of a kingdom that endures forever."

Do you see how little the identity of the kingdoms really matters? We could waste our lives trying to identify the kingdoms...finding all the interesting points about the kingdoms...and we would miss THE POINT. There is a day coming when only God's kingdom will stand. The terrorist's reign of fear will not stand, the United Kingdom will not stand, the European Union will not stand, the United States of America will not stand. There will only be one kingdom in that day...it will be God's kingdom. This the truth that gives us wisdom unto salvation. Are you part of God's great overcoming kingdom? It is the only one that will stand. Every other kingdom, whether philosophical, political, religious, etc., will be destroyed by the power of God as he ushers in His kingdom.

Though the king's tune would later change, Nebuchadnezzar's initial reaction is the one that must remain in our hearts: "Surely [Daniel's] God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings..." (v. 47). That was the point of giving him the dream. It was the great grace of God revealing how temporary Nebuchadnezzar is and how eternal God is...how small Nebuchadnezzar is and how big God is...how relatively weak Nebuchadnezzar is and how supremely powerful God is.

Being in God's kingdom is an issue of faith. Are you trusting in Christ alone as your Lord, your Savior, your King? If so, you are in God's kingdom, and you should take comfort in the words Paul writes: "What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?...For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:31, 38-39).

If you are not in God's kingdom by faith in Christ alone, then turn from your sin and trust in Christ. Forsake all other kingdoms, all other philosophies, all other ideologies, and even the idea of being self-sufficient...and bow the knee of your life to the King of kings...Christ Jesus.